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Embedding the Culture – People your most valuable asset!

© Roger La Salle 2011

What’s your business life expectancy?

The fact is that if you are not constantly working to move your products, processes, services and customers to an ever better place, you can be sure a competitor will soon move in to take the your place.

Perhaps we could cite Nokia as having taken the high ground in mobile phones from Motorola and later Blackberry having challenged Nokia, and of course still later the iPhone having moved to challenge all that came before!

One wonders who may be next. However, there is little point in just reading an interesting article or running some in-house training or inspirational “talking head” session with an expert in any field if these are just “one shot wonders”.  The aim must be to embrace and embed the teaching into the business so that there is ongoing benefit. Otherwise, why bother all?

Change is not all that difficult

If you asked anybody to identify the country most renowned for the quality of its products, almost without exception, the answer would be Japan.

For anybody old enough to remember, in the 1950’s anything coming from Japan was considered to be cheap junk. The early plastic injection moulded toys, dolls, water pistols and games all came from Japan.

Yet today, Japanese products are considered to be leaders in terms of quality. So what changed, how did it happen?

Historically, W. Edwards Deming, the statistical quality control guru, is credited with leading the change initiative for the Japanese. He introduced the statistical methods of quality management and presided over the establishment of the now famous Japanese Quality Circles.

Quality circles were instituted as regularly held meetings between staff groups in companies where products, processes and all aspects of the business were critiqued and reviewed.

The effect of this and how it changed the Japanese manufacturing and business culture is the subject of many case studies.

Can my business do this?

In general, unless there is some particular disharmony within an organisation, most people wish to make a contribution and wish to be seen as a useful and valuable part of the team. This mindset needs to be harnessed for the good of the organisation.

To achieve this it is first necessary to train people in innovation and opportunity capture methods and then once people are equipped with tools, the next step is to form Innovation Circles. These circles should be cross functional teams that need only comprise four or five people and that meet periodically, perhaps over lunchtime once every two or three weeks, where the lunch is provided courtesy of the business.

At these sessions the teams with the guidance of a team leader should use the innovation tools provided to explore innovations and opportunities for the business.

Experience in establishing these teams has found people are eager to become involved and to make a contribution that will be acknowledged and perhaps rewarded.  After several months of innovating in team meetings there should be a presentation to senior management of the progress of their work, and perhaps annually there should be a competition for the best innovations with rewards provided to the winning teams.

Rewards may only need to be little more than recognition and perhaps a night out to dinner for the winning team and their partners, sponsored by the company.

What is the message?

Without innovation to drive change, most businesses will ultimately find themselves under threat, whether from competitors with better products, or those with better service approaches or new and better ways of doing business

  1. The message must come from the top.
    • Without top down commitment, nothing will happen. Why should an employee “go the extra mile” if the boss is not really interested?
  1. Senior management must be “on board”, interested and committed, and moreover know and understand the processes
    • How can lower level people be engaged on the journey if senior management has no real understanding of what they are doing?
  1. Staff at many levels need to be trained in some simple thinking techniques that encompass:
    • Innovation
    • Opportunity capture
    • Simple and fast “Pass – Failure” evaluation
  1. Innovation Circles (Teams) need to be formed from cross functional groups.
    • The time commitment of these people is minimal, the outputs quite remarkable.
  1. Rewards, mainly recognition, and perhaps a weekend away with partners need to be given to successful Innovation Circles.
    • Judged perhaps by six or twelve monthly competitions.
    • Organisations must capture, listen to, and act upon, the ideas emanating from their staff and clients during everyday operations.


Before any attempt is made to commence the journey to inculcate an innovation/opportunity culture, there are first four essential questions that need to be addressed:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • Where are you now?
  • How will you measure progress?
  • What outcome defines success?

Each of these questions should be answered in a single sentence statement!

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